The bill proposes that low income Americans eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, may use their benefits to purchase multivitamins.
It was written similarly to previous proposals that have made it through Congress, though none have successfully been turned into law. The closest it came to fruition was last year, when language from the SNAP Vitamin and Mineral Improvement Act of 2017 made its way to one of the later drafts of the Agricultural Improvement Act (or Farm Bill), though it was dropped in the final version that passed.
“The substance of information within both bills are identical to what was in the Farm Bill last year,” Mike Greene, SVP of government relations at the dietary supplement industry trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), which lobbied for the bill’s passage, told us.
There were some technical changes, he added, but nothing substantial.
It was introduced by Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in the Senate and Representatives Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) and Mike Rogers (R-AL) in the House.
What’s included in the bill
“The legislation will allow a multivitamin mineral [containing] one-half of the essential vitamins and minerals, of the 26 essential vitamins and minerals, at 50% of the daily value,” to be purchased using SNAP, Greene explained.
The 50% daily value requirement was set to acknowledge that whole foods come first. “We want everyone to have a healthy diet, but we know that people don’t get a healthy diet, and therefore that’s where the multivitamin comes into play and how it could fill nutrient gaps,” he added.
The bill was also drafted to allow for SNAP recipients to choose multivitamins that meet specific needs, for example a children’s multivitamin or a prenatal multivitamin.
Lessons learned from past unsuccessful attempts
The industry has long lobbied for the eligibility of multivitamins to be purchased using SNAP benefits.
“I think what we learned from our last effort and efforts before is that the science and the research regarding nutrients and how nutrients could fill gaps in individual’s diets continues to grow,” Greene said. “There’s great information out there, so the policy of including a multivitamin in your diet to help fill nutrient gaps is strong.”
CRN’s strategy is to focus on education. It’s about talking about the “good science and research that has become available,” Greene said, and it’s about “continuing to underscore the benefits of filling nutrient gaps in low-income populations by using dietary supplements.”
Finding the right vehicle
Last year the industry rode on the Farm Bill, which won’t be reauthorized for another four years.
“Other bills like the Older Americans Act could come up in the next year or so,” Greene said. “Childhood Nutrition was supposed to be reauthorized a couple of years ago and has been extended, so a lot of the other vehicles that we would look up could come up and that’s a possibility, we won’t rule it out.”
At this point, Greene added, the strategy will focus on education about nutrient gaps in low-income populations, and “sharing that information in congress to build a better case for why we need to do this when the right policy vehicle comes up.”
Other industry trade groups applauded the bill's introduction and urged Congress to pass it.
“There are 13 million American children living in food-insecure households, and that’s why we need Congressional action to expand programs like SNAP to cover vitamin and mineral supplements,” said Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Natural Products Association, in a press release. “We urge Congress to pass this legislation so all Americans can have access to products that support their health and well-being.”